The London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League have had a rich history when it comes to graduating players into the NHL/WHA. Since 1973, a total of 175 players have been drafted by NHL/WHA clubs. The Knights have produced Hockey Hall of Famers Dino Ciccarelli and Darryl Sittler, along with current NHL superstars Patrick Kane, John Tavares, Rick Nash, and Corey Perry. (Note: Future Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan laced up for London as well).
The Knights have had more number one overall draft picks, five, than any other club in the world. (Rick Green, WSH, ’76, Rob Ramage, COL Rockies, ’79, Rick Nash, ’02, CLB, Patrick Kane, ’07, CHI, and John Tavares, ’09, NYI). London, who Plymouth Whalers coach Mike Vellucci called the “Yankees” of the OHL, do not have any player going number one overall in this year’s draft. However, they do have three players who will most certainly be first round selections (that would be a first in franchise history), and five other players who could be drafted. Below I profile the three top Knights in Max Domi, Bo Horvat, and Nikita Zadorov.
Max Domi may not be the most skilled player in this year’s draft, but for what he lacks in skill, he makes up in heart. He shows a lot of character and working hard despite having diabetes. He’s the hardest working player on the ice at any given time and Domi wants the puck every time he’s out there. He’s not a liability in his own end and by watching him play, he possesses tremendous hockey IQ and instincts. That shouldn’t be a surprise given that he’s a product of the Hunter school and the son of Tie Domi, who was one of the toughest players, pound for pound, the NHL has ever seen. Max has some aspects of his father’s game, in particular for having a reputation of getting under his opponent’s skin. Domi is quite an agitator.
Domi’s offensive game is truly a treat to watch. He has excellent vision and playmaking ability that makes him dangerous with the puck, as he can beat defenders one-on-one. His wrist shot is quick and accurate and his release is top notch. Domi is an elite skater with great acceleration and a tremendous first step. His top speed makes Domi a real threat off the rush. His low center of gravity makes him very difficult to knock off the puck, despite his small size at 5’10 184 pounds at best. He is strong along the boards and is more dangerous on the cycle than one would expect from someone with his stature.
Domi played on Team Ontario in the 2012 Under 17 Challenge and was a member of Team Canada at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Tournament last August. Domi finished 9th in the OHL this past season in scoring with 39 goals, 48 assists, in 87 games played. He is currently second in OHL playoff scoring behind Winnipeg Jet prospect and current Barrie Colt Mark Scheifele with 11 goals, 21 assists for 32 points in 20 games played.
I see Domi as a Brad Marchand type player. He compares to Marchand in that he’s an absolute pest with offensive skill. Domi has potential to be a top six forward at the NHL level. He could potentially be a first line center some day, but I see him fitting in nicely along the second or third line. A move to wing could be in store given his size.
I had the Ottawa Senators selecting Domi at 17 overall in my initial mock draft. Jared Abbott had Domi going to the Toronto Maple Leafs at 22 overall in his. (Boy, wouldn’t that be something). Overall, the consensus is Domi will go somewhere in the 15-24 range for the draft. I wouldn’t be surprised though to see Domi taken higher given his stellar play in the playoffs and the potential Memorial Cup berth for the Knights.
Bo Horvat does it all for Knights head coach Dale Hunter. Horvat excels at every facet of the game and to be relied on heavily as a 17 year old shows how much trust Hunter has in Horvat. Horvat has good vision, good passing skills, and a great hockey sense.
One thing I like about Horvat’s game is that he goes to the dirty areas of the ice to win board battles. He protects the puck well and has good hands which make him valuable off the rush and in the cycle game.
Horvat is not the flashiest player but he’s a smart, reliable, and simple hockey player that just gets the job done. This type of style should translate well to the pro level, however he needs to bulk up and get bigger in my opinion. Horvat stands at 6’0 198 pounds.
One thing that I have seen with Horvat compared to last year is his improvement in the skating department. His speed and acceleration have vastly improved, which shows to me his dedication to the game of hockey. From watching some Knights playoffs games this season, Horvat still could work on his agility but that will come with time.
My favorite aspect of Horvat’s game is in the defensive zone. He does it all whether it’s cutting down passing lanes, blocking shots, back-checking hard, or taking crucial faceoffs. He’s an effective penalty killer and faceoff man reminiscent of former Philadelphia Flyer and current Los Angeles King Mike Richards. In fact, Horvat compares his game to the Stanley Cup champion.
Hunter puts Horvat out there against other team’s top lines and his checking and faceoff work helped the Knights limit OHL scoring champion Vincent Trocheck (FLA, 64th overall, ‘11) to three points during the OHL Western Conference finals. Horvat had 32 goals, 28 assists, for 60 points in 67 games played this year with London. In the playoffs, he has 14 goals, 7 assists for 21 points in 20 games played.
Horvat can be an effective top six center in the NHL. He’s strong in all aspects of the game and is capable playing against top lines, on the penalty kill, and providing scoring on thepower play. He’s a versatile center that can do it all and would be a valuable commodity to any team. I had Horvat going to the San Jose Sharks at 20th overall in my initial mock draft. Jared Abbott had Horvat going 24th overall to the Blue Jackets in his. Horvat will certainly be a first round draft pick and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that some team could fall in love with Horvat and select him in the top 10. He’s really good, but in my opinion not top 10 worthy. I see Horvat in the 12-18 range ultimately.
Nikita Zadorov is the definition of boom or bust. The kid has unreal potential given his mammoth size but he’s just so raw and still needs years of development. When the London Knights made a trade with the Peterborough Petes last summer to move to number nine in the CHL import draft to select Nikita Zadorov out of Russia they couldn’t have expected the production they received from the hulking blueliner.
Zadorov is listed at 6’5 228 pounds, although he’s definitely closer to 6’7 235 pounds. He’s a big, nasty hitter who has a knack for crushing forwards coming down the ice with theirheads down. For such a big man he has surprisingly excellent skating ability and mobility. His backwards skating is tremendous which makes him tough to beat one-on-one.
On paper this all sounds good. However, here is where I have my question marks with Zadorov. He has the tendency to over commit when hitting opponents, which can lead him to being out of position. He’s not that poised with the puck when he’s under pressure and has a knack for making some egregious passes and turnovers in his own end.
The other concern I have with Zadorov is he doesn’t play much against other team’s top lines. I know London has Scott Harrington (PIT, 54th overall, ’11), Olli Maata (PIT, 22nd overall, ’12) and Tommy Hughes (NYR signed as a UFA on April 1st) on the back end but if I’m a scout of NHL club I want to see Zadarov play against the Mark Scheifele’s (WPG, 7th overall, ’11), Vincent Trocheck’s (FLA, 64th overall, ’11) and Boone Jenner’s (CLB, 37th overall, ’11) of the world. His defensive game shows potential but it still needs to be polished and smoothed out. He was also cut from the Russian WJC squad.
Here is a video of Zadorov fighting OHL tough guy Johnny McGuire in his first OHL game:
Offensively, Zadorov has a hard slap shot. To me his vision and passing skills from the back end are subpar at best. He struggles when under heavy pressure. His stickhandling and wrist shot are decent though. Zadorov is highly skilled, but once again he’s very raw and will need some time to develop in the offensive game. Zadorov had 6 goals and 19 assists for 25 points in 63 games this past season. Currently, Zadorov has 2 goals and 4 assists in 6 playoff games.
The sky is the limit on Zadorov but there are some big questions as to whether or not he can reach that potential. He has all the skills, but his game is just so raw and not as polished or as NHL ready as Seth Jones, Darnell Nurse, Rasmus Ristolainen, Ryan Pulock, or even Mirco Mueller in my opinion. Jared Abbott and I both had Zadorov going 21st overall to the Washington Capitals in our initial mock drafts. Don’t be surprised though if Zadorov goes in the top 10 based on his potential alone.
I wouldn’t be shocked if thePhiladelphia Flyers select Zadorov at number 11. The Flyers need defensive help now, but if they let Zadorov play in London for the next couple of years they could really have themselves a gem of a player. It is worth noting that Zadorov was selected 4th overall by CSKA Moscow in the 2012 KHL draft. If things don’t go Zadorov’s way in London, the lure of returning to his hometown to play hockey and to receive a huge paycheck maybe too much to pass up.
Other Knights that are draft eligible include forwards Remi Elie and Kyle Platzer, as well as defensemen Dakota Mermis and Miles Liberati.
Knights back-up Jake Patterson is the 20th-ranked North American goalie according to Central Scouting.